Friday 14 April 2023
16.30 - 18.30
ILO Tensions: Between the State and the Social
Eileen Boris :
Regulating Women’s Labor: Between Family and Market
“Women’s place is in the home but it is also in the market place, in the community, in the schools, in the hospitals, in the offices and factories and on the land. How, in today’s increasingly complex world, can we preserve and strengthen the home and family and still allow ... (Show more)
“Women’s place is in the home but it is also in the market place, in the community, in the schools, in the hospitals, in the offices and factories and on the land. How, in today’s increasingly complex world, can we preserve and strengthen the home and family and still allow for the realities of women’s employment?” asked Assistant Secretary of Labor Esther Peterson, a Government Advisor to the US delegation at the International Labour Organization, in 1964. “And while the goal towards which some countries are striving is shared family responsibilities, for women workers in the world as a whole this is not today’s or tomorrow’s reality.” Thus, Peterson promoted part-time employment as a way to take advantage of women’s skills, such as in teaching and nursing, while allowing these workers to perform “family responsibilities.” Much to her chagrin, however, the Committee on Women’s Work rejected inclusion of such employment in their proposed recommendation on “Women Workers with Family Responsibilities” 1 over concerns that the question of part-time work was one for men as well as women and that its use could threaten labor standards, undermining full-time employment.
The debate over part-time work, like those over maternity protections and restrictions on women’s hours at night, underscored the balancing act that industrial capitalist economies engaged in as much as the households within such societies. Women were the particular to the universal and yet they should also come under universal standards—except when their particular responsibilities suggested special treatment. How to allocate women’s labor power between family and market long had occupied governments, feminists, organized workers, and employers. It became part of the problem of women and development in the post WWII world even as state socialist economies claimed to have solved the issue. This paper charts the century long efforts to regulate women’s labor through the reports and instruments (conventions and recommendations) produced by the ILO and its various sections. It focuses on part-time work as well as recommendations of how to alleviate women’s double day through public assumption of social reproduction by providing child and elder care subsidies or services, matching school times to employment hours, spreading household technologies and improving transport. Policies directed toward women in the mid 1960s became gender neutral two decades later. By century’s end, what some had conceived of as more time for leisure and shared family labor had turned into part-time and contingent work for men as well as women as initial part-time labor instruments became revised for a new neo-liberal moment. The home gained recognition as a workplace, however, first in a convention covering home-based labor (industrial homework) and then one promoting decent work for domestic workers. Who cares? And how those who care for their households as well as those who care as their job remained a pressing question when the ILO celebrated its Centennial in 2019, putting women’s work for the family as well as the market as central for obtaining decent work for all. These questions of home and work gained greater urgency as the worldwide pandemic again exposed the chasm between macroeconomic needs for essential workers and household health, safety, and labor power.
1. Mrs. Peterson, Remarks, International Labour Conference, Proceedings, 48th session (Geneva: ILO, 1964): 461-462. (Show less)
Dorothea Hoehtker :
Social Policies and the Environment. The ILO and the 1984 Bhopal Disaster
For the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the protection of the health and safety of at the workplace has always been in the heart of its global social policies, originating in the growing concerns of European reformist networks about new risks for workers from rapid industrialization. During the Interwar period, it ... (Show more)
For the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the protection of the health and safety of at the workplace has always been in the heart of its global social policies, originating in the growing concerns of European reformist networks about new risks for workers from rapid industrialization. During the Interwar period, it adopted a number of labour standards and after WWII, health and safety became important aspects of its development cooperation activities. However, the heterogenous local conditions and the trade-off between industrial employment creation and the establishment of basic workers’ protections turned out to be a major problem for the ILO and its universalistic approach.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a broad environmental movement started to challenge the ILO’s vision of social progress through industrial growth and increase of productivity, drawing attention to the environmental impact. In parallel, the ILO had to face the increasing power of transnational or multinational companies which defied the national logic on which its mandate and functioning are based.
The paper proposes to analyze these dynamics, by taking as an example the ILO’s reaction to the Bhopal chemical accident in 1984. In how far did it mark a turning point in the ILO’s thinking about the environmental dimensions of its social policies? While the ILO established at the time various measures to improve hazard control and prevention, the heated debates on the multiple causes of the disaster, the responsibility for the accident, and the broader follow up action by the ILO, e.g. in form of training and labour standards showed that the accident could not be qualified as unique or as a ‘collateral damage’ of technological progress. It was now understood as closely linked to general conditions of large-scale industrial production in a globalizing world.
Especially the workers questioned the usual rather “technical” distinction between the working environment which needed to be improved, and the protection of the general environment, which was seen by many as being outside of the ILO’s mandate. This was the beginning of a more fundamental debate on the environmental sustainability of the industrial growth model, a debate, which until today has been livelier outside the ILO, given its major political implications. The environmental dimension also added complexity to the debate on the role and responsibility of multinational corporations and local governments in developing and in industrialized countries, where major industrial accidents had occurred as well. (Show less)
Jill Jensen :
Labor as Development: ILO and Strategies for Economic Growth in the Global South
During negotiations over the International Trade Organization (ITO) in 1948, ILO representatives, as well as others advocating for what has become known as “the social clause,” lost the fight. Even before the ITO was tabled, national representatives, arguing for various degrees of liberalized international trade had asserted the view that ... (Show more)
During negotiations over the International Trade Organization (ITO) in 1948, ILO representatives, as well as others advocating for what has become known as “the social clause,” lost the fight. Even before the ITO was tabled, national representatives, arguing for various degrees of liberalized international trade had asserted the view that the ILO should steer clear of international economic/financial matters and focus instead on the “technical” matters of labor standards and labor relations. Yet by the development decades of the 1960s and 70s, ILO projects for country-level technical assistance utilized all the means possible to play a role in “the formulation and execution of economic and social development plans” (as stated in a 1964 Inter-American ILO Conference publication). The ILO’s foray into the realm of development in poorer nations presented serious challenges, however, given its institutional commitment to labor union formation and the tripartite form, as well as to labor standard themselves. Would it be possible to transplant the ILO approach successfully in nations where unions were weak, and a majority took part in informal labor arrangements?
Considering the dynamics of the global political economy and the international division of labor deeply embedded within the framework of the Cold War, I describe in this paper the way in which practitioners negotiated the contours of an expanding development industry—in cooperation but also competition with other inter-governmental organizations and NGOs.
Over the course of time chosen for this evaluation (late 1960s to the 1990s), development programs increased substantially, evolving to incorporate populations that has been left out of modernizations schemes of the 1950s and early 1960s. They increasingly included women, the un- and underemployed, the rural poor, and indigenous communities as targets. For a time, concerted effort was extended to foster social solidarity in the name of human well-being and basic needs. Yet by the 1990s, a “new economic operating model” had emerged according to one practitioner. Decades of insufficient and unstable growth combined with tax reforms, privatizations of social security, the downsizing of the public sectors, and the deregulation of markets, leading to a new level of vulnerability for poorer nations. (Show less)
Sandrine Kott :
The ILO Social Norms, Multinational Enterprises and National Social Policies
This presentation looks at how the ILO has attempted to implement instruments to socially regulate the activities of multinationals in particular in value chains. This issue was first raised by the workers' group in the 1960s, who expressed concerns about the risks of deregulation in Europe. It took on a ... (Show more)
This presentation looks at how the ILO has attempted to implement instruments to socially regulate the activities of multinationals in particular in value chains. This issue was first raised by the workers' group in the 1960s, who expressed concerns about the risks of deregulation in Europe. It took on a new dimension with the declaration of the New International Economic Order by the G77 group at the UN and the impetus given to the creation of codes of conduct regulating the activities of MNEs.
The ILO's 1977 Tripartite Declaration was a first response to this challenge. However, the ILO's efforts in this area are hampered by a fundamental tension in the organization's own functioning. The success of its standard-setting activity - its core activity- relies on governments’ ratifications. Their proper implementation depends first of all on the existence of an efficient and competent national labor inspection service. On the other hand, the ILO does not have the vocation to act directly on companies. This has been one of the reasons for the difficulties in following up the 1977 tripartite declaration, as governments pointed out the difficulty of gathering documentation on the social activities of private companies. To circumvent this problem the ILO Governing Body has developed direct communication channels with companies since 2017 (the helpdesk being one of them). By doing so the ILO wishes to encourage (but there is no binding instrument) companies to take into account, or even integrate, the content of labor conventions in their own charter of good conduct. In some countries where labor legislation is in its infancy, companies could even become vehicles for the dissemination of ILO standards.
This sort of role reversal between governments and private companies echoes what was going on at the beginning of the 19th century in Europe (paternalism). Can we see this evolution as a step backwards? Is it, on the contrary, a progress in a context of weakening of the State? (Show less)
Cory Verbauwhede :
Far Above the Fray: Selling Social Insurance as a Solution to Social Problems from the Depression to the Early Post-war Years. The Development of Social Insurance Theory at the ILO from the Perspective of Quebec, 1930-1952
A 1968 review of comparative social administration policies, touted on its back cover as the "first systematic presentation of the comparative method applied to the study of social policy and administration", and covering the British experience in light of that of France, Norway and Canada, had some harsh words for ... (Show more)
A 1968 review of comparative social administration policies, touted on its back cover as the "first systematic presentation of the comparative method applied to the study of social policy and administration", and covering the British experience in light of that of France, Norway and Canada, had some harsh words for the International Labour Organization and other would-be contenders in the field. Though the ILO's publications were deemed "useful", it affirmed that the necessary "rudimentary understanding at least of the 'ecology' of these social institutions and of the political, economic and social complexion of their country of origin" had "usually to be sought elsewhere". Using the Quebec and Canadian experiences and their respective strategies to instrumentalize social policy for competitive nation-building purposes over the period studied, we will inquire into the nature of international expertise and its relationship to local policy making. Specifically, we will explore the mechanisms whereby highly politicized debates at the national and regional levels are scrubbed of their controversial content in the process of becoming international law. Far from being merely "useful", such instruments incorporate their own ideology, and the period studied is particularly explicit in that regard with respect to social insurance. Like other international organizations, the ILO became a player in post-war embedded liberalism, evacuating for some time key questions of inequality from its frame of reference in matters of social legislation. I will argue that this crucial period for what Jacques Donzelot has termed "the invention of the social" - an uncomfortable middle ground between market and state - informs our current crisis of political institutions in which the "expertise" that social insurance and other welfare state programs rely on is being attacked at its very core. (Show less)